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The Wisconsin company selling DIY casket-building kits

By James Groh,


As DIY crafting and home renovations continue exploding in popularity, one Wisconsin company has turned casket-making into a DIY industry.

Husband and wife duo from Beaver Dam Jonas and Julie Zahn are the co-owners of Casket Builders Supply . They sell ready-to-build caskets and coffins starting at $700.

"Theres other folks who are in their 60s and 70s who really want to build their own. They want to have their hands build the vessel that is their end-of-life resting place," Jonas Zahn said.

Casket Builders Supply has three models starting at $800 and going up to roughly $1,700 depending on the additional features a customer would like. The basic kit can be built in about two hours. Zahn said that you don't even need a saw or a hammer to put it together. There is also an intermediate coffin and an advanced casket for more skilled craftspeople. For the past 15 years, they've sold two to three kits a week. They also sell individual parts that you won't find in hardware stores like specific hinges, handles, and poles for pallbearers to hold. James Groh
Examples of DIY caskets from Casket Builder Supply.

The company has been successful and sold to people all across the country.

"And we have about 3,000 craftsmen around the United States that build caskets regularly that call us for parts. And they’re building anywhere from one or two a year to probably our biggest customer building 450 a year as a profession," Zahn said.

Building a casket is an intimate and emotional experience. Zahn said that's what attracts people to the DIY kits.

"There are families that when mom or dad is nearing death or has already passed will actually buy one of our kits or buy the parts and just build their own casket because it's spiritual for them to do," Zahn said.

In fact, that's how Zahn got his start in building caskets. Death gave life to this company. His grandfather died in December 2004. He, his siblings, and his dad built a coffin for his grandfather. Zahn said it was an incredible bonding experience. It also gave him solace. That's when he got the idea to start a coffin company. Julie Zahn
The first casket that Jonas Zahn made in 2004 was for his grandfather.

However, his first sales weren't for DIY kits. Zahn and his wife created Northwoods Casket Company . They sold caskets to funeral homes across Wisconsin. The business was founded upon the ideal that all the materials were sourced locally and every employee is local.

"For us, we’ve consistently grown year to year, but that's because we consistently get new funeral homes that embrace us and what we do," Zahn said.

They work with about 250 funeral homes in the state.

Northwoods Casket Company was a successful company when it started. It wasn't until five years later that Zahn started to give the DIY casket building some thought.

"The phone started ringing of other people who wanted to make caskets," he said.

Customers wanted to build their own, but most distributors would only sell parts in bulk. Zahn decided to stock his warehouse with parts to sell individually. James Groh
Caskets sold by Northwoods Casket Company.

"Everyone one of these is important. It's somebody's mom or somebody’s dad this is going into one of these," he said.

Owning a casket company is difficult. It means confronting death on a daily basis.

“In some respects (it's) morbid," Julie Zahn said.

Before the two started the casket company, Julie was a stay-at-home mom, photographer, and teacher. She never thought this would be her job.

“Well, that would be my husband's fault," she said.

But she is all in now.

“Because they’re going to contain the remains of someone that you love.”
She is also helping the company focus on selling more urns.

"We're hoping to considerably grow the urn business because that is the direction that the business is going is more towards cremation," she said.

All their urns are made from old barn wood, whiskey barrels, or wine barrels.

It’s a delicate business. They can work with people making long-term plans or experiencing sudden tragedy.

“One of these orders is a rush order so that probably means somebody either passed away or is going to very soon," she said.

With each sale, they plant 100 trees. It's symbolic of their overall mission. They want to be good stewards of the earth. They also recognize that while they deal with death, their focus is on life.

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